I’ve made mixes all my life. Still do, though now we call ’em playlists. In this case I went thematic. I can’t say why, it just worked out that way. I’m passing it along for your (possible) enjoyment. And, of course, as document. Feeding the interweb’s gaping maw.
Note: As with any playlist, I created it for my own listening pleasure. There are some obvious songs I didn’t include here — “Saturday Night Special” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, for example — and entire genres that I ignored in the interest in continuity. Also, there’s simply a lot of songs I haven’t heard or didn’t think of. If you’d like to add a song, make a comment. Sonically, I think it holds together pretty well through the first 20 tracks, then it gets kind of wobbly after that. But it’s an interesting subgenre. Guns & America. Let’s get it started with a banjo . . .
Time To Get a Gun, Fred Eaglesmith
Miranda Lampert covered this song, which I gather was good news for Fred Eaglesmith and his bank account. For my mix, I’ll stick with the man who wrote the song.
“Time to get a gun.
That’s what I’ve been thinking.
I could afford one,
if I did just a little less drinking.
Time to put something,
between me and the sun.
When the talking is over
it’s time to get a gun.”
Folsom Prison Blues, Johnny Cash
This song had to be here, so might as well get it out front.
“When I was just a baby
My Mama told me, “Son,
Always be a good boy/
Don’t ever play with guns,”
But I shot a man in Reno
Just to watch him die.”
The Devil’s Right Hand, Steve Earle
Another song that begins with a Mama’s warning, unheeded.
“My very first pistol was a cap and ball Colt,
Shoot as fast as lightnin’ but it loads a might slow.
It loads a mite slow and I soon found out
It can get you into trouble, but it can’t get you out.”
Put Down the Gun, Peter Case
He was the leader of the mighty Plimsouls for crying out loud. The man is a legend. And he’s a legend, too, for writing this song.
““I don’t want to swear it/ But it’s something that I’ve heard/ A gun in the first act/ Always goes off in the third.”
Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down), Nancy Sinatra
Written by Charles Harmon, Shaffer Smith, and Mr. Sonny Bono. To me, Nancy Sinatra forever owns this song. Quentin Tarentino used it to great effect in the film, “Kill Bill.”
“Bang bang, he shot me down
Bang bang, I hit the ground
Bang bang, that awful sound
Bang bang, my baby shot me down.”
Bang Bang Bang, Ellen Jewell
Ellen Jewell offers a new take on Cupid, who in this version has upgraded his weaponry.
“He fired off a few hot rounds
Right into the sorry crowd.
No blood, no gore, no one hit the ground.
They all just fell in love
With whoever they happened to be around.
It’s funny, till it happens to you,
But be sure you stay well out of his way.
Love is careless, random and cruel,
He don’t take aim he just —
He don’t take aim he just bang bang bang.”
Gun, Uncle Tupelo
More gun as metaphor than actual gun, but a great tune and one of Jeff Tweedy’s best Uncle Tupelo numbers.
“Don’t tell me which way I oughta run
What good could I do anyone.
‘Cause my heart, it was a gun,
But it’s unloaded now. . .”
That’s When I Reach for My Revolver, Mission of Burma
Punk anthem, 1981.
“Tonight the sky is empty
But that is nothing new
Its dead eyes look upon us
And they tell me
But slaves (That’s when I reach for my revolver)
Just slaves (That’s when I reach for my revolver)
That’s when I reach for my revolver
That’s when I reach for my revolver
That’s when I reach for my revolver
That’s when I reach for my revolver.”
Guns on the Roof, Clash
From the great “Give ‘Em Enough Rope” LP.
“Guns guns, a-shaking in terror
Guns guns, killing in error
Guns guns, guilty hands
Guns guns, shatter the lands.”
The Eton Rifles, Jam
Written by Paul Weller, who is awesome, in 1979.
“Sup up your beer and collect your fags,
There’s a row going on down near Slough,
Get out your mat and pray to the west,
I’ll get out mine and pray for myself.”
Bullet With My Name on It, The Dream Syndicate
I finally caught these guys live at Solid Sound, 2013, but I can still remember the first time a friend introduced them to me, on vinyl, in his East Village apartment.
“If you ever saw me
swear I’d try to disappear
I wouldn’t make a sound
got me on the run
it’s gonna be the last time
I let you hold my gun.”
Shoot Out the Lights, Richard and Linda Thompson
Thompson matches the gun’s menace note for note with his slashing guitar riffs.
“In the darkness the shadows move
In the darkness the game is real
Real as a gun
Real as a gun
As he watches the streets of the city
As he moves through the night
Shoot out the lights
Shoot out the lights.”
99 Year Blues, Hot Tuna
Originally written by blues musician Julius Daniels, this song appeared on the famous Anthology of American Folk Music box set. This “Burgers” LP was just huge with my friends and me back in high school. Jorma, man.
“Well, now give me my pistol, man
And three round balls
I’m gonna shoot everybody
That I don’t like at all.”
Bring Me My Shotgun, Lightnin’ Hopkins
Another “my woman done me wrong” song — with a nice twist at the end.
“Go bring me my shotgun,
You know I just got to start shootin’ again.
You know I’m gonna shoot my woman,
Cause she’s foolin’ around with too many men.”
Billy, Green on Red (Dylan Cover)
Nice cover by Green on Red of a minor Dylan classic off the underrated “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid” soundtrack. Gillian Welch also covers this tune in a way that’s worth hearing.
“They say that Pat Garrett’s got your number
So sleep with one eye open when you slumber
Every little sound just might be thunder
Thunder from the barrel of his gun.”
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, Bob Dylan
Live by the gun, die by the gun. Sticking with the same LP, here’s the tune everybody knows — and everybody, it seems, has covered.
“Mama, put my guns in the ground
I can’t shoot them anymore
That long black cloud is comin’ down
I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.”
Me and Billy the Kid, Joe Ely
One more in our Billy the Kid trilogy. Here’s a classic take by the great Texas songwriter Joe Ely.
“Yeah, me and Billy The Kid never got along:
I didn’t like the way he buckled his boots an’ he wore his gun all wrong.
One day, I said to Billy: “I got this foolproof scheme.
“We’ll rob Wells Fargo, it’s bustin at the seams.”
I admit that I framed him. I don’t feel no remorse.
It was just my way of gettin’ even with the man who shot my horse.”
The Rifleman, The Minus 5
Scott McCaughey’s pop collective out of Seattle. Maybe it would have been brighter if I grabbed something of their 2006 release, “The Minus 5”, AKA “The Gun Album,” but I don’t know it that well. Sorry. So shoot me.
“Did you see the rifleman, did you see that episode?
Every Crawford in the country got to see his little head explode.
Just a loaded Texas tin star who tried to fill his boots
With bullets from a stocking Christmas morn'”
Shoot Out on the Plantation, Leon Russell
Another fallen legend, Leon died on 11/13/16. I’ll always love him best for his work leading Joe Cocker’s sprawling band, Mad Dogs & Englishmen.
“Yeah, the drummer’s got the drum, the colonel’s got the gun,
And Junior’s only got a knife, he’d better run.”
I Wanna Be Your Gun, The Mayflies USA
Sonically maybe not the best fit for this playlist, but I’ve long had a soft spot for this NC band’s melodic power pop and vocal harmonies. Their first two CDs were produced by the great Chris Stamey, so there’s your bona fides.
“I don’t want a shot, I just wanna be your gun.”
Tommy Gun, Clash
The only band that gets two songs on this playlist, breaking all the rules. Boy, they seem to matter now more than ever. We miss you Joe Strummer!
You ain’t happy less you got one
Ain’t gonna shoot the place up
Just for fun
Maybe he wants to die for the money
Maybe he wants to kill for his country
Whatever he wants, he’s gonna get it!”
Hand of Fate, Rolling Stones
Pretty good band. They might make it someday.
“My sweet girl was once his wife
He had papers the judge had signed
The wind blew hard, it was stormy night
He shot me once, but I shot him twice.”
Jeannie Needs a Shooter, Warren Zevon
The man, the myth, the legend.
“The night was cold and rainy down by the borderline
I was riding hard to meet her when a shot rang out behind
As I lay there in the darkness with a pistol by my side
Jeannie and her father rode off into the night.”
With a Gun, Steely Dan
“I could be wrong but I have seen your face before
You were the man that I saw running from his door
You owed him money but you gave him something more
With a gun
With a gun”
Happiness Is a Warm Gun, Beatles
Another song where they are not really singing about a gun, but there’s a lot of shooting going on. “She’s not a girl who misses much.”
“Happiness is a warm gun (bang bang shoot shoot)
Happiness is a warm gun, mama (bang bang shoot shoot)
When I hold you in my arms (oh, yeah)
And I feel my finger on your trigger (oh, yeah)
I know nobody can do me no harm (oh, yeah)
Because, (happiness) is a warm gun, mama (bang bang shoot shoot)
Happiness is a warm gun, yes it is (bang bang shoot shoot)”
Ray’s Automatic Weapon, Drive-By Truckers
A man slowly losing it . . . with a gun in his possession. Songwriting Patterson Hood style.
“I got to tell you
You got to take that gun back
Cuz these things that I been shooting at are getting all too real
Don’t want to hurt nobody, but I keep on aiming closer
Don’t think that I can keep it feeling like I feel.”
Ten Cent Pistol, Black Keys
A scorned woman with a gun. That’s a combo for you. Hell, the song practically writes its darn self.
“There’s nothing worse
In this world
Than payback from a
The laws of man
They don’t apply
When blood gets in
A woman’s eye.”
Pray for Newtown, Sun Kil Moon
Mark Kozelek was at his shambolic, idiosyncratic best on the 2014 CD, “Benji.” This is one of the songs on a weird, great disk.
“December twenty-fifth, and I was just laying down
I picked up a pen, I wrote a letter to the guy in Newtown
I said I’m sorry bout the killings, and the teachers who lost their lives
I felt it coming on, I felt it in my bones and I don’t know why.
So when Christmas comes and you’re out running around
Take a moment to pause and think of the kids who died in Newtown.
They went so young, who gave their lives
To make us stop and think and try to get it right
Were so young, a cloud so dark over them
And they left home, gave their mom and dad a kiss and a hug.
So when your birthday comes and you’re feeling pretty good
Baking cakes and opening gifts and stuffing your mouth with food
Take a moment for the children who lost their lives
Think of their families and how they mourn and cry.”
Shots, Neil Young
One of those great Neil songs it’s easy to miss, because this hidden gem is off the 1981 “Re-ac-tor” LP, which is about when I began losing some enthusiasm for Neil who wandered lost in the 80s wilderness until he surprised us with “Freedom” in 1989. I went with the electric version here, though there’s some really nice solo acoustic versions floating around the interwebs. If I was feeling clever, I could have started this thing off with the acoustic and then closed it out with the visceral noise of Neil and Crazy Horse kicking up a storm.
I hear shots, I keep hearing shots
I keep hearing shots
I hear shots.”
Two Gunslingers, Tom Petty
Off the “Into the Great Wide Open” CD. My last song for this set, and I hope a fitting way to close it out.
“Two gunslingers walked out in the street and one said
“I don’t want to fight no more”
And the other gunslinger thought about it and said
“Yeah, what are we fighting for?”